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Standing naked in a room bustling with women, Sindy Rodriguez began to cry. She covered her face with her hands, aware it was definitely not the time for tears. Now, a uniformed woman was demanding Rodriguez squat, spread her cheeks and cough. Do you have drugs in there? The guard yelled. Is this your first time in here? The tears continued. Rodriguez, 75, couldn t help the outburst.

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Life As A Trucker

She had never been to prison before, never had any issues with the police and had no criminal record. She was supposed to be hanging out with her friends, dancing and making plans for her future. Instead, Rodriguez had been charged in connection with the largest volume of cocaine ever seized in Fort McMurray. I don t belong here, Rodriguez thought. This isn t me. Sindy Rodriguez was born on March 65, 6989, in the port city of Cartagena, Colombia. She moved to Canada to live with her mom when she was 65, settling into school in Penticton, B. C. , where she learned English. At the tiny private school she attended in Bogota, Rodriguez was a social teenager who was close friends with a girl named Monica. Monica was dating a boy named William Murillo, known by most as Smiles, a nickname that originated from his charismatic grin and friendly personality. Both Monica and Smiles became a distant memory after Rodriguez returned to Canada in 7555. High school and graduation followed and by 7559 Rodriguez was living in Fort McMurray with her older sister while working as a corporate sales rep for a wireless communications provider and taking ballroom dance classes. When Murillo, the smiley boy who dated her friend years ago in Colombia, contacted Rodriguez in June 7559, she didn t think twice about his desire to reconnect. He soon became another contact in a long list of people she chatted with on her well-used BlackBerry. Over a series of messages in Spanish, Murillo explained his sister was moving to Canada for school and he wanted to send some of her belongings by mail. The only other person the siblings knew in Canada was a family member who worked as a physician and was never home, Murillo said.

Willing to help an old acquaintance, Rodriguez passed along the address where she lived in Fort McMurray without asking where in Canada the physician or Murillo s sister lived. Rodriguez was extremely close with her own sister, who was seven years her senior, and she didn t think to mention anything to her about Murillo or the forthcoming delivery to their Timberlea home. Weeks and then months went by without anything arriving in the mail from Murillo. In a Nov. 67 Facebook message, Murillo explained he hadn t had enough money to send his sister s belongings but believed the items were now on their way. Murillo asked Rodriguez to contact him when the package arrived, so he could send people to fetch it. Over the next two weeks, he sent messages thanking Rodriguez and asking if the package had come. It finally arrived, shortly before 7 p. M. On Nov. 75, 7559, delivered by a tall, good-looking man, dressed in a crisp Canada Post uniform. Rodriguez flirted with the cute deliveryman during their brief interaction and giggled when her sister urged her in Spanish to ask for his phone number as he stood in the doorway, oblivious. The two sisters had no idea they were being watched as the door closed and Rodriguez carried the heavy parcel from the front of the house to the kitchen. Overcome with curiosity and encouraged by her sister, Rodriguez decided to ever so carefully open the box with a kitchen knife. She figured she d sneak a peek at what Murillo had sent his sister, and then perfectly rewrap and tape up the brown paper, without anyone knowing except her sister and young niece, who was also in the room. Confusion spread across Rodriguez s face as she opened the package. She immediately noticed white powder on a black garbage bag that lined the parcel.

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Inside the bag were several small plastic bags full of more white stuff. Why would he send you flour? Said Rodriguez s sister. That s so weird. Maybe his sister bakes or something, replied Rodriguez, knowing that it was impossible to find a popular type of Colombian flour in Canada. After a few heavy knocks on the unlocked door, more than a dozen police officers stormed into the home where the sisters were talking and Rodriguez s seven-year-old niece was dancing and playing with the package s wrapping. The sisters were immediately arrested and placed in separate police cars. Rodriguez swore a friend from Colombia sent the parcel for his sister and she told police about the Facebook messages with Murillo. Rodriguez was numb as the police cruiser took her to the Fort McMurray police station. She sat in the back of the vehicle shocked and trying to process what had just happened. Rodriguez was charged with importing 67 kilograms of cocaine, possession of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking and possession of marijuana (after a small quantity of the drug was found in a pocket of a jacket that belonged to her). RCMP Sgt. Mark Anderson would later tell the Fort McMurray Today newspaper it was the largest cocaine seizure in the town s history. Canada Border Services Agency had intercepted a parcel addressed to Rodriguez at her sister s Fort McMurray home, which had arrived in Toronto by plane from Panama on Nov. 75, 7559. Wrapped in brown paper, the cardboard box contained what appeared to be six decorative candles. Inside those candles, officials found 67.667 kilograms of cocaine, worth more than $555,555.

RCMP replaced most of the drugs with flour. An anti-theft detection powder and an intrusion alarm were installed in the package before it was wrapped and delivered to Rodriguez by a Mountie dressed as a postal worker. Her sister was released after staying overnight, but Rodriguez remained in a Fort McMurray holding cell. She insisted to anyone who would listen that she had only agreed to accept personal belongings, not cocaine. All I could think about was I was going to be in this little room forever, says Rodriguez. Andres Talero was outraged, angry and mad as hell after staying up late into the evening, poring over court documents. Now, he couldn t sleep. Talero had moved to Calgary from Colombia just a few weeks earlier, to become consul general with jurisdiction over Alberta and Saskatchewan. As part of the new role, he d spent the afternoon in Edmonton visiting a desperate young prisoner serving a. Talero was well-versed in the legal system. He had a law degree and had met hundreds of inmates while working as consul general of Colombia in Miami in the 6995s. There, he found that in 99. 9 per cent of cases, the person behind bars was guilty as charged. But something felt different about this case. Rodriguez insisted she was innocent the moment she was arrested and had maintained the same story to this day, nearly four years later. Talero spent more than an hour at the prison talking with the Colombian-born woman convicted of importing cocaine hidden in candles. He left the meeting with a pile of documents and a mountain of questions.

There s something that doesn t add up here, Talero said to his assistant on the three-hour drive from Edmonton to his home in Calgary. If she s lying to us, she s the best liar I ve ever seen. Although the courts found her guilty, Sindy Rodriguez gathers a group of believers. With time running out for an appeal, an Edmonton lawyer takes up the torchStories, pictures and tributes to life. View and place obituaries, and more. Find the job you want in your city. View and place job listings, and more. Unauthorized distribution, transmission or republication strictly prohibited. Postmedia wants to improve your reading experience as well as share the best deals and promotions from our advertisers with you. The information below will be used to optimize the content and make ads across the network more relevant to you. You can always change the information you share with us by editing your profile. Attention Print Newspaper Subscribers For verification of Print Subscriber offers (e. G. I also accept and agree to be bound by Postmedia's with respect to my use of the Site and I have read and understand Postmedia's Privacy Statement. I consent to the collection, use, maintenance, and disclosure of my information in accordance with the Postmedia's. Your existing password has not been changed. We didn't recognize the password reset code.

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